Mike Mills, who was severely wounded in Iraq from an IED in 2005, has not only made a remarkable recovery, but has since dedicated his life to helping other veterans navigate the maze of bureaucracy and paperwork needed to access services in making the transition back to civilian life.
That's why I immediately thought of Mike when I heard about the American Patriot Project, headed by Wes Hazlett. If you haven't heard of Wes Hazlett, it's because he keeps a very low profile. Since this past June, he's put in countless hours, and has donated nearly all his savings (including selling his car and moving into a small apartment) in getting this project off the ground. Hazlett, a former professional baseball player, felt a calling to honor those who have sacrificed so much so that we can live our lives in peace. Hazlett (who until recently co-owned a successful baseball bat manufacturing firm) utilized his connections with the baseball community to build a link between America's pastime and America's heroes, awarding such luminaries with items such as custom bats, opportunities to throw ceremonial first pitches, and baseball tickets.
When I informed Hazlett of Mills, he was immediately interested, and brought Mills' story to the rest of the nominating committee. The rest, as they say, is history.
Mills is the first Minnesotan to receive this honor, and one of only eight people to receive the award across the nation. When I nominated Mills for the award, little did I know that I would have the honor and privilege of actually helping to present the honor to him.
I presented him (and his family) with special T-shirts made only for award recipients
Also on hand were the mayor of Freeport, who declared November 11, 2009 "Mike Mills Day" in Freeport. Governor Pawlenty also wrote a proclamation of support for Mills, and Tara Westby, on behalf of Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, read a wonderful proclamation made by Bachmann on the House Floor, to be entered into the Library of Congress.
Bert Blyleven sent this Mills this autographed photo:
Mills also received a special "Patriot" St. Paul Saints jersey, as well as other team jerseys.
Mills, his wife Sukki, and his family were all overcome with emotion, as was I.
I was humbled to have been a part of bestowing this appreciation for the sacrifices that SSgt Mike Mills has and continues to make on behalf of his country and his fellow brothers- and sisters-in-arms.
It was an evening never to be forgotten.
As Wes Hazlett wrote,
Preserving Dignity and Honoring Sacrifice
It is imperative at this critical time for all American's to unite in a most humble and sincere solidarity in honoring our American Veterans who are giving their lives toward our Nation's freedom.
If American citizens were to live with the code of honor and acceptance of the creed and call of duty that our America soldiers live by, there would be no way on God's green earth our enemies would see us as a divided Nation.
We need to fight as citizens for our soldiers in preserving the dignity of our heroes.
We need to be diligent in telling our children what our soldiers are courageously doing in our stead while we partake of the fruits of liberty.
We need to remember the families with sincere admiration for raising their children up as men and women of strong character to defend our American States.
If we do not support and defend the honor of our Veterans from our World War heroes to our Afghanistan war heroes we are going to face a horrendous future in this Nation.
We must not ever become a people who dismiss those who have fought, bled, and suffered great physical and emotional trauma in the defense of America. We must look upon our Soldiers as a testament of our resolve as a people to earnestly defend this Country as a force for good in this world because our founding fathers penned it such.
These American soldiers, many who have who have paid for our freedom with blood, deserve every single American to look them in the eyes with admiration, gratitude, and hospitable grace.
What these few have done for all of us, for our liberty, in these United States, must not ever be discounted and it must never be lightly esteemed.
We must honor our American soldiers and it is our duty and charge to do so because we are American's.
God forbid the alternative.